Gags: Minis From Jason Viola, Josh Latta and David Z. Greene

Posted by on June 23rd, 2010 at 5:14 AM

Rob reviews HERMAN THE MANATEE VOL 3 by Jason Viola, A RABBIT IN KING ARTHUR’S FOOD COURT by Josh Latta and SWIMMING WITH SHOES ON, by David Z. Greene.

A RABBIT IN KING ARTHUR’S FOOD COURT, byJosh Latta. Latta’s Rashy Rabbit is a distance relation of R.Crumb’s Fritz the Cat. This is a dirty funny animal series, with cutely-rendered figures engaging in sex, drugs and violence. This issue of the series starts with an homage to “Fractured Fairy Tales”, only the rabbit trailing the horses with a broom is actually Rashy himself, cleaning up at a bizarre “Medieval Times”-like restaurant at a shopping mall. Along the way, he has to deal with vicious drug dealers, idiots who take the whole “jousting” thing too seriously, a girlfriend he’s trying to impress, and other obstacles as he simply wants to make enough money to buy an engagement ring.

Latta’s work has that underground feel to it in its tension between slacker sleaziness and cute figure work. At the same time, the fluidity of his panel-to-panel transitions gives the comic a frantic energy in the tradition of another funny animal-man: Carl Barks. The mania of this issue was different than a prior issue I sampled, where the comic had the pace of a slacker slice-of-life book, with periodic outbursts. Here, Latta sought a different experience for the reader, and in particular wanted to create a book that was a cohesive experience (even as it was part of a larger series). Latta could always draw, but this issue proved he could sustain a real comedic narrative.

HERMAN THE MANATEE, VOL 3, by Jason Viola. This is a collection of webcomics that evolved from being done-in-one gags to a serial, albeit a highly silly one. The earliest strips, involving the title character repeatedly having its head hit by speedboats, were the most effective. When Viola attempted something more satiric in the second volume, it simply wasn’t as effective. This volume, involving Herman in prison and making friends with a vicious narwhal and a Hannibal Lecter-like manatee. While the situations that Viola concocts are amusing, he never quite goes far enough into the realm of the absurd to make this comic truly memorable. This is lightweight entertainment that works because of Viola’s appealing line and character design.

SWIMMING WITH SHOES ON, byDavid Z. Greene. Greene is a British cartoonist with a thin, scratchy line and a silly sense of humor. The gags here concern an inept space explorer, old West telemarketer zombies, a predatory warehouse (this was a particularly inspired gag), a demented fan at a convention and a great bit about “The Man Who Had Nothing To Say”. There’s a nice synthesis between his use of funny drawings and the actual concepts themselves, with neither dominating the other. Some of his premises are on the thin side, by the drawings tend to make them at least enjoyable. When he has a good idea, his use of exaggerated expressions doesn’t seem awkward because of the thinness of his line.

The best feature in this collection is his travelogue as the official cartoonist for a band called Cats on Parade on a British tour. The character design alone made this a delightful read, and while Joe Sacco (and others) have trod this ground before, Greene’s light touch was the perfect antidote to the over-the-top nature of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Despite the wispyness of his line, he was also able to evoke the suffocating nature of living in close, cramped quarters for several weeks, the gamble of playing in a new venue, and the release of the afterparties that can provide indelible mental snapshots. I’d love to see more humorous slice-of-life strips from Greene, because this seems to be his true niche as a cartoonist.

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